What is a Production Designer and What is Their Role on Set?
The Production Designer is responsible for everyone in the Art Department. They are one of several department heads that work on the film crew to ensure the Director achieves the desired visual effects in the production of the film. The Production Designer plays a crucial role in providing Producers with schedules that aid in staying within film budget while offering the ability to maintain all creative requirements outlined by the Director. Production Designers ensure that the look of the set, be it a late-night movie setting or a birthday party outside, is that of the Director’s desire.
Production Designers must be extremely creative and carry the ability to imagine and construct the backdrop of virtually any storyline. They work with the Director of Photography in helping all members of the crew to realize the creative vision of the Director. Production Designers often begin their work in the very early stages of pre-production and are most often hired at the request of the Director and/or the Producer of the film.
Working on a freelance basis, Production Designers pitch the art and drawings for work on productions often pitching their ideas several times before they are offered a role on set. The hours are long and the workload is demanding but the creativity allows most Production Designers to fully-immerse themselves in the position and take great value from the role.
Production Designers work with the Producer and Director to define appropriate creatives for the studio or location set of the film. They review scripts and provide estimates for the Art Department to help the necessary parties in budgeting the film. When they initially read the screenplay, they immediately begin to assess the visual aspects and requirements necessary to bring the creative vision to life.
Production Designers break the script down into workable pieces and help the director to define an appropriate shoot of the film. This includes determining whether to use sets or to shoot on location, as well as making plans as to what set creatives should be built and what should remain as an adaptation to the visual theme. When design elements are necessary to evoke emotion or to build psychological depth for the film, the Production Designer is responsible for making the determination and for producing the appropriate creatives to fulfill the need. They also determine when Computer Generated Imagery should be used.
Production Designers calculate art budgets and decide how to spend the money that is available for the production. Budgeting discussions take place only after intense research takes place to ensure Production Designers and their Specialist researchers have sourced appropriate ideas from various sources including books, the internet, photographs, and paintings.
Design sketches are delivered by Production Designers to the Art Directors to help layout the overall mood, atmosphere, and lighting that the film will have. The Art Director will ultimately oversee the production of technical drawings that are given to the Construction Department to build sets and adapt locations for filming. Props Buyers, Set Decorators, and other members of the art department will liaise closely to ensure proper sourcing of props and organizing of manufacture lists for the production.
Leading up to the shoot, production designers will manage large groups of people to ensure that all of the creative work gets done. They also carefully monitor the budget to ensure creatives remain on schedule, on budget, and on-task.
On shooting days, the Production Designer arrives on set early in the morning to view the setup and they make themselves available to respond to any questions or concerns that arise from the Director, Producer, Director of Photography, Art Director or others involved. Following the shoot, the Production Designer operates in the Art Department to ensure that construction and dressing of other sets and sing-off on sets and locations has taken place for the following day’s shoot.
Production Designers generally finish their work the final day of the shoot unless working on a large scale production where they may continue to take on various tasks for longer periods of time.
Essential Skills of Production Designer
The Production Designer must possess creativity and knowledge of many different forms of art and design. They are responsible for technical drawings, color theory, architecture, building and construction of sets, historic design, and several other elements of the production so working knowledge of all kinds of art forms is a must. Additionally, Production Designers must fully understand computer budgeting software and have the ability to draw up potential sets using Computer-Aided Design (CAD) Programs.
Additional working skills of the Production Designer may include:
- Visual and aural skills.
- Communication skills.
- Ability to create aesthetically pleasing drawings and sets.
- Presentation skills.
- Artistic leadership skills.
- Math skills for budgeting.
- Team management skills.
- Ability to foresee and meet deadlines.
- Understanding of appropriate health and safety regulations.
BAFTA Guru created a really informative and entertaining video on what exactly a Production Designer does: